This month we’ve gone to an industry expert for their assessment of how to secure houses of worship. Frank Santamorena PSP and principal of Security Experts, Rhinebeck, N.Y., had this to say:
Harlick: How would a dealer / installer / integrator approach a house of worship to do their security installation / upgrade? Who should they be trying to see when they make that call?
Santamorena: Of the upmost importance, make certain that you call it a “House of Worship” so as not to offend anyone by calling it a religious center. The easiest way to start is to grab the weekly “Liturgical Publication”. This usually gives a contact person or board members names and phone numbers. If you belong to a worship organization, approach a board member and ask who handles the security. If you’re not practicing and/or have no affiliation with a house of worship, then just stop into the administration offices during the week and ask for information on who to call. You’ll find that these folks are helpful and a great resource. Once you have this information, try and be of service; what I mean by this is give back. Ask the worship center if they would like a complimentary security survey to identify some of their security shortfalls, or risks. Houses of Worship have been notoriously lax about crime security. They rarely use alarm systems. They don’t use proper security measures to know if a building is secure. Security is more than installing electronic equipment and components. By identifying potential security flaws, you will bring credibility, and in the same time, do something very good.
Harlick: What should one look for when securing this facility?
Santamorena: Criminals don’t like to work too hard — any delay increases their chance of getting caught. Start by making unauthorized entrances as inconvenient as possible by keeping doors and windows locked when your building is vacant. Your outside doors should be solid core, metal or wood and should have deadbolt locks with a 1-inch throw and non-removable hinges. Basement window wells or ground level windows should be protected. Trim shrubbery and trees so there are fewer places to hide and so a passersby can see the building more clearly. Ladders shouldn’t be left near the building, giving intruders an easy access to upper floors. If you have fencing, make sure it is the wire-mesh type, preventing access while still providing good visibility. Cover your stained glass windows with Lexan, Plexiglas or some other form of protection. Parking lots should be regularly patrolled to avoid car burglary. Make sure sides and entrances are lit and your grounds and parking areas have adequate security lighting. Security lights with automatic timers are best, supplemented with motion detecting lights. Remember to close curtains or blinds at night, so they are out of sight. It’s also a good idea to keep some interior lights on timers. Finally, ask your local police to regularly patrol your area and grounds.
Harlick: Should a facility like this be viewed any differently than a commercial structure?
Santamorena: I don’t believe so. Most burglaries — including those in houses of worship — are crimes of convenience committed by amateurs. By not presenting a tempting target you can prevent a large percentage of these crimes. You should always know who has access to your building. Newer technology can help safeguard people and buildings as well. Things like keypads and electronic card systems can limit access to specific areas of buildings and can record who comes and goes at all times. Another common problem is embezzlement. Do a background check of anyone who will be involved with finances, as well as people in other important positions. All of these security implementations that we use in Worship Centers are generally used in commercial/industrial applications.